Self-proclaimed man of the people Stelios Haji-Ioannou - now Sir Stelios - has been branded a "rich bully" by a London businessman who has obtained a court order against the EasyJet founder to prevent him from interfering any further with his pizza business.
Karl Kahn was informed in 2004 that his EasyPizza.co.uk domain was infringing the rights of EasyGroup - which runs EasyJet and other "easy" companies, including EasyPizza.com. Mr Kahn has been trading since 1997 and registered the domain in 1999.
Mr Kahn refused to back down, however, resulting in High Court proceedings being issued against him by Sir Stelios.
Following an acrimonious build-up to the court date in February this year, Sir Stelios then pulled out at the last minute, serving a Notice of Discontinuance.
Earlier this month, however, Mr Kahn succeeded in getting EasyGroup to sign a consent order covering his costs, estimated at £135,000, and agreeing not to interfere with his business or bring any further court action without the approval of the court. To date, EasyGroup has yet to pay the costs.
But Mr Kahn is not the only person to have received the attentions of EasyGroup. Sir Stelios has been campaigning against "easy" domain name owners for over six years - even though EasyGroup was informed by the World Intellectual Property Organisation in 2000 that it was not entitled to domain names with the word "easy". The English High Court also ruled against EasyGroup, saying the word "easy" was too common in the English language.
But this has not prevented dozens of companies being threatened by Stelios because the huge costs associated with defending a claim in the High Court have been extremely effective in forcing people to hand over their domains. There is even a section on the EasyGroup website dedicated to "brand thieves", outlining the various legal actions the group is taking against companies that use the word "easy".
EasyGroup claims that the owners of easy domains are "passing off" on its name. However, that legal argument is based on a selective reading of the law which would require the companies to also copy EasyGroup's well-known orange livery and lower-case/upper-case typography, and to make out they are in some way associated with EasyGroup. That is not the case with the majority of easy domain name owners.
However, Stelios has consistently embarked on brinkmanship with companies that stand up to him, most famously when Easyart.com refused to back down, and saw EasyGroup again pull out of its High Court hearing just days before.
The same barrister that represented Easyart, David Hansel of Memery Crystal, represented EasyPizza, and is also thought to be representing a number of other firms in similar disputes.
He said of Stelios's most recent case: "As with its earlier action for passing off and trademark infringement against Easyart, EasyGroup cannot claim a monopoly over trading names beginning with the word 'easy'. This applies even where they have obtained a registered trademark, but are seeking to stop an earlier trader from using the 'easy' name."
Karl Kahn summed up his experience succinctly: "Stelios is a rich bully who tried to intimidate us into closing our business. He hired expensive lawyers, private investigators and attempted to force EasyPizza out of business. We didn't have his resources but we knew we were in the right and thank goodness justice prevailed. We now have a court order protecting us from further interference by Stelios."
In a statement today, EasyGroup said that during the case it discovered that “contrary to initial information we had, that Mr Khan's outfit had been in operation for longer than we originally thought. As a result the EasyGroup decided to settle its case with Mr Khan out of court.”
According to the statement, Stelios said: "We do not bully people, we only protect our lawful rights and the fact that we decided that Mr Khan has certain legitimate rights to the name in a very limited area of London is proof that we do act reasonably and responsibly and always in good faith. We wish him well in trading using this name inside the very narrow geographical territory." ®